Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 02:21 GMT
Call to scrap waiting lists
A new system for operation times is needed, says health charity
Waiting lists divert attention away from proper care of patients and should be abolished, says a leading health charity.
By concentrating simply on the length of time that people wait for treatment after seeing a consultant, the severity of patient need is being ignored, according to the King's Fund.
In its annual report, the London-based charity calls for the introduction of a system of thresholds which allow for more flexible measurement of waiting times.
The NHS should set out its priorities clearly and openly to ensure people with the most pressing need are treated first, say report authors Anthony Harrison and Bill New.
The government has pledged to cut NHS waiting lists by 100,000 from the figure it inherited after the General Election in 1997.
The total number of patients waiting to be admitted to NHS hospitals in England was 1,084,500 at the end of September, bringing ministers to within 27,000 of their target.
Mr Harrison said: "The national waiting list is diverting our attention from the important matter of ensuring NHS resources are used to treat people with the greatest needs.
"For NHS priorities to be set in a way that truly reflects the priorities of the public, the waiting list itself will have to go."
He also warned that the array of new organisations and targets introduced into the health service was creating uncertainty for the future of health care.
Coupled with demands to reduce waiting lists, it would be very difficult for NHS staff to work with their patients.
Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' committee, said: "There is an acceptance coming through from the general public and the politicians that there has to be a better way of doing things.
"There has to be some sort of sensible prioritisation - something that the public agrees with. We have got to come up with some clinically-based system."